Presumed Alliance: The Unspoken Conflict between Latinos and Blacks and What It Means for Americaby Nicolas C., PhD Vaca PhD
As Latino and African Americans increasingly live side by side in large urban centers, as well as in suburban clusters, the idealized concept of a "Rainbow Coalition" would suggest that these two disenfranchised groups are natural political allies. Indeed, as the number of Latinos has increased dramatically over the last ten years, competition over power and
As Latino and African Americans increasingly live side by side in large urban centers, as well as in suburban clusters, the idealized concept of a "Rainbow Coalition" would suggest that these two disenfranchised groups are natural political allies. Indeed, as the number of Latinos has increased dramatically over the last ten years, competition over power and resources between these two groups has led to surprisingly antagonistic and uncooperative interactions. Many African Americans now view Latinos, because of their growth in numbers, as a threat to their social, economic, and political gains.
Vaca debunks the myth of "The Great Union" and offers the hope he believes each community could learn from, in order to achieve a mutually agreed upon agenda. More than simply unveiling the problem, The Presumed Alliance offers optimistic solutions to the future relations between Latino and Black America.
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The Presumed Alliance
The Unspoken Conflict Between Latinos and Blacks and What It Means for America
Shortly after the 2000 Census released its numbers pronouncing that the Latino population at 35.3 million was closing in on the African American population at 36.4 million, the Charlotte Post, an African American newspaper published in Charlotte, North Carolina, asked one of its writers, Artellia Burch, to go out and get the reaction of Charlotte's Black population to this startling fact. The census had revealed that Charlotte's Hispanic population grew from 9817 in 1990 to 77,092 in 2000, a 685 percent increase over the last 10 years. Little wonder that the Charlotte Post wanted to know what its readership thought about this.
Burch dutifully interviewed various Black residents of Charlotte and published her interviews in a piece entitled "When Worlds Collide: Blacks Have Reservations About Influx of Hispanic Immigrants." The story contained quotes from Black residents which reflected some of the worst stereotypes of Latinos. For example, an African American computer technician unabashedly admitted that he was prejudiced against Latinos. He said, "I definitely think they are people to fear. . . . They travel in packs. They like to play stupid acting as if they don't understand English when you know they do. A group of them will sit around and talk to each other in their language. They could be plotting to kill you and you would never know."
The computer technician's mean-spirited observations of Latinos were not restricted to their potentially menacing ways. No, he was also concerned with the loss of jobs to the newly arrived immigrants. "They are taking over," he said. "They're taking all of our jobs. Slowly but surely. I just don't care to be around them. They make my skin crawl. I keep my ideas to myself. This might sound bad, but I don't go around making remarks about them to other people. So, only God can judge me."
Another respondent, an African American computer engineer, said that he was not surprised that Latino numbers were now nearly even with Blacks. Why not? Because "Hispanics come over here, start businesses, and multiply like rabbits. . . . It's no surprise they outnumber us because they have a baby every year." These and other equally disparaging observations from Black residents of Charlotte landed Burch in a firestorm of controversy. She was interviewed by Fox News, and the Wall Street Journal's website had a link to her story. The controversy was so great that BlackPressUSA.com, which carried Burch's story on its website, felt compelled to remove it.
Burch's sin, if her story can be called that, was that she exposed what everyone believed was a well-kept secret. The secret was this: Because Latinos and Blacks have been exploited and suffered poverty and discrimination, and because they are both people of "color," it is commonly assumed that Blacks would not only not disparage the new Latino arrivals but would sympathize and understand the marginal nature of their lives. It was this presumed ideological alliance between Blacks and Latinos that Burch's story exposed in a very direct and graphic manner. It was the political incorrectness of the views expressed by her interviewees that caused the controversy.
When I committed to writing this book I did so with the knowledge that I too would likely become the focus of high-tension emotions. I got a taste of what I could expect one evening when I met with a couple of Latino attorney friends for drinks and what I thought would be an enlightened discussion about the subject matter of this book. One of the attorneys was of Peruvian heritage and the other was a veteran, like myself, of 1970s Chicano activism.
When we got together, I presented a broad-stroke synopsis of the book to my colleagues. Even before our first drinks arrived, the Chicano attorney became agitated and challenged the need for such a book, arguing, categorically, that all the book would do is exaggerate an already existing division between Latinos and Blacks. "Something that the gringo wants and which he can exploit." The words came out like well-rehearsed lines -- no surprise to me since such a perspective had been in existence since the 1970s Third-World Strike Movement in the San Francisco Bay Area and was accepted gospel by many Chicano and Black activists.
I responded by telling him that the 2000 Census made the discussion of the relationship between Latinos and Blacks essential -- that Latino birthrates and immigration, both legal and illegal, cranked up the Latino population to such a level that it almost equaled the Black population and was projected to outstrip it in the near future. Our population growth, I continued, was such that any dialogue on race relations in the United States could no longer be restricted to the Black-White dynamic but had to include Latinos as well and that a major component of that discussion had to address any problems between Blacks and Latinos. The Chicano attorney persisted with his assault and told me that what I should focus on is building bridges between Blacks and Latinos. How could we build bridges, I responded, unless we examined the basis of any conflict? The Latino attorney, perceiving that emotions were escalating, tried to calm the waters by telling the Chicano attorney that all I was doing was discussing what existed -- I had not created the conflict, I was only addressing it. The Chicano attorney flicked the Latino's comments aside with a wave of his hand and continued with his barrage, his voice now two octaves higher than when we began our conversation. When it was clear that I would not come around to his position, he announced that he was leaving and that I should not expect any further calls from him. I was surprised by both the emotional level of our conversation and the dramatic manner in which it ended. Here was someone I had known for some years, with whom I had socialized on many occasions, who belonged to some of the same professional organizations that I did, but who had no compunction about terminating our friendship simply because of the subject matter of this book. If this was his reaction, what could I expect from those with whom I had no such ties?
The irony of the Chicano attorney's reaction was not lost on me. Neither Burch nor I were the first to address this issue. The troubled relationship between Blacks and Latinos had been broached before by Latinos, Blacks, and whites because the conflict between Latinos and Blacks had been perceived, and if not perceived then anticipated, by academics and laypeople years before Burch's article appeared. It had also been discussed in direct and uncompromising ways. An example of this was the division between Latinos and Blacks over immigration that manifested itself in the 1980s when Congress, concerned with controlling illegal immigration, began putting together what would later become known as the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). A component of IRCA was an employer sanctions provision, which, for the first time ever in the history of immigration legislation, imposed federal civil and criminal penalties on employers who knowingly hired, recruited, or referred aliens who are not authorized to work by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
When IRCA was wending its way through Congress, spokespeople from Latino and other minority groups warned that employers would be so afraid of violating the law that they "would not hire foreign-looking or foreign-sounding U.S. citizens or aliens who were legally authorized to work," thereby discriminating against Latinos and other minorities. However, the NAACP and labor organizations supported the employer sanctions provision as a way of combating illegal immigration.
The chickens came home to roost on March 29, 1990, approximately six years after passage of IRCA, when the U.S. General Accounting Office issued a report, the third in a series, concluding that the IRCA sanctions resulted in widespread discrimination against eligible workers who appeared to be foreign or who sounded foreign. Latinos' worst fears were confirmed.The Presumed Alliance
The Unspoken Conflict Between Latinos and Blacks and What It Means for America. Copyright © by Nicolas Vaca. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Nicolas C. Vaca holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a practicing attorney in the Bay Area and has been a visiting scholar at University of California at Berkeley for the past two years. An award-winning journalist, Vaca is also a contributing writer to the prestigious journal California Lawyer. He lives in California.
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